(OPINION) Surviving the pandemic: Life as we know it changed overnight

Edmund S. Tayao

Posted at May 18 2020 10:39 PM | Updated as of May 19 2020 01:10 PM

I started writing about the so-called “new normal” last month as many have started to use the term to refer to how things are as a result of the pandemic. I argued that the new normal started quite a while back (“What is the new normal?”), and not necessarily resulting from this pandemic. I will get back to that as promised, but considering we are now reassessing how we have been implementing community quarantine, we have to seriously reflect on how to get life back on track or as we now say, get to or adapt to the new normal.

If the new normal didn’t start way before the pandemic, it would have been a lot more difficult to cope with the lockdown; the difficulties of not being able to go out and work, meet people and buy much needed stuff like food. Imagine the time (and that’s not too far back then) when food delivery was limited only to fast-food joints, each with their own delivery service. Imagine then that to get the food you crave for will require you to go to the market, a special market and or delicatessen, most likely, in order to get what you want for lunch or dinner. Imagine the time when anything and everything that need to get going or even just initiated required people to meet in person, plan and put things in action. Then imagine if it was during that time when this pandemic happened. If now, with nearly all that one requires can be sourced conveniently online, we still find it difficult to cope, how doubly problematic could it have been if we’re in a pandemic without all those facilities.

All of these have been brought about by the continued advance of technology. The same advance of technology lamentably has contributed to the coming of the pandemic. Covid-19 may or may not have been deliberately developed and propagated, but technology, for sure, contributed to the coming of this pandemic. How we produce, distribute and eat food has changed considerably from one generation to another, thanks to technology. It creates conveniences but at the same time inadvertently leads to problems like new bacteria or viruses resistant to existing cures. Of course, this should not be taken to mean we should cease working on how to make life more convenient, but perhaps convenience should not only be the criterion or objective of further developing technology. Health and safety should be fundamental considerations as well.

We have to slowly factor health and safety and any innovation and or invention in any change that we deem needed in our everyday life. We just have to reflect on how this pandemic has changed life as we know it overnight. Governments all over the world were caught off-guard. This pandemic is unlike any disaster any government has had to face. The Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) tools of planning and preparation would not be enough as reference. It is not even right to say that those countries that had Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) almost two decades back managed to prepare and handled this pandemic well. Singapore is a case in point. Compare that to Switzerland and even Sweden that only had a few SARS cases before. Vietnam is, in fact, the only country that so far has showed capacity to contain the virus as it did with SARS in 2003. Vietnam was the first country to be removed then from the list of countries with local transmission of SARS. Nearby countries Thailand, Cambodia and even Laos may have taken a leaf from them that they now have zero new Covid-19 cases. Other countries that had SARS before, however, were still hit bad by this pandemic.

As governments struggle to contain the contagion, travel and much of overall economic activity has been disrupted. The world’s economy has been put to a grinding halt immediately as every country closed their borders. Countries and companies are suddenly unable to pursue any development and/or investment initiative, and priorities are set aside. Much of the workforce, especially on tourism and trade, have been displaced. MSMEs, the backbone of any economy, is struggling and without any effective measure, can just collapse. Help from other countries still happens but the priority is to fend for themselves first. Overall, the world’s economy is crippled as it depends significantly on trade which is now critically restricted.

Much-needed supplies have become scarce overnight as the world’s supply chain has been disrupted. All over the world, the prescription is to stay home and wear a mask. As much as possible, after touching anything, wash your hands and/or use hand sanitizer and alcohol to disinfect. Immediately, the costs of these much-needed supplies have skyrocketed, and acquiring any--from mask to alcohol to thermal scanners and basic commodities like rice--has taken a weird process that is literally haggling. The whole process of looking for supplies is akin to a treasure hunt; everything is simply irregular. We have been not only caught off-guard, it shows that we really don’t stand much chance withstanding a prolonged crisis, not with the whole world shut down. While other countries are able to tap on their local produce, we are not able to do as much. What’s worse is, the lockdowns of provinces and cities were put in place without considering that our own supply chain remains functional or at least an alternative is put in place. Who would not fail to consider it if the focus is the health of everyone and to contain the spread of the virus?

As the focus is on containing the virus, work and education have been interrupted. Routines and schedules have been modified if not altogether negated. The few who are able to remain active in whatever’s left working in the economy now, work from home, while only those in the business of basic necessities like food and medicine remain active in the service industry. Students are in limbo; there are calls for mass promotions but of course it does not amount to anything more than a piece of paper saying they have moved on. Going back to work and/or going back to school will prove to be among the many challenges everyone, the whole society and country has to face in the end.

If we look at it altogether, society and family have been strained and constrained. How people communicate and greet each other changed instantly. No more shaking hands and people had to learn how to converse at a distance. Socialization can no longer be the same as before. Birthdays, anniversaries and other important family and social events like fiestas cannot be celebrated with the usual pomp and animated stories shared by different people. What is saddening is that there are family members who cannot even visit their old folks or siblings in different places. Worse, there are those who have not been able to get home as they were caught by the lockdown while they were on travel.

Everything changed with everyone oblivious. So, there is resistance. Many refuse to accept that they have to do this and they simply can’t do that or anything they used to be able to do without any restriction. Having to survive this pandemic depends so much not only on government but also on us. So much depends on understanding and cooperation, regardless of whether you’re in government or not. Unfortunately, this is one that has been quite wanting, and considerably at that.

I’ll talk about how governments have handled the pandemic so far in the next article.

(The author is the Executive Director of the Local Government Development Foundation and a professor of Modern Local Governance at the Ateneo School of Government.)

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.